As I have mentioned before, this whole farm start-up business is expensive. We have savings that we’re using to get over this expenditure heavy hump, but even without debt the sums that we spend can feel a bit daunting at times. It should come as no surprise, then, that we are loth to buy anything that we don’t yet need (though I will say that Andrew and I have slightly different definitions of those two categories…). What may seem surprising, however, is that we have not bought a tractor.
As anyone who has ever created even a small home garden knows, they call it “breaking new ground” for a reason. A good stand of sod might as well be a quilt over the soil, it blankets the ground so thickly. So the idea of turning two acres of old hay field into vegetable fields calls for a tractor, or horses, or else a lot of people with a lot of free time.
While I have none of those things, I do have great landlords and friendly neighbors, and that (as Robert Frost might say) has made all the difference.
Our landlords allow me to rent their 40 horsepower Ford, which I can use for chisel plowing, brush hogging, lifting heavy things with the loader, manure spreading, and next year, laying black plastic. For jobs requiring more horsepower, like mowing sod or disking, I can hire Larry, an old friend of our landlords’ who keeps their fields tidy with a big New Holland tractor and a fifteen foot batwing mower.
That should be enough to cover most of my tractor needs next year, but I needed more help this fall turning in the sod. On Larry’s recommendation, I turned to our neighbor Lee, who raises beef and feed corn, to see if he would plow my field. On Sunday, Lee brought over his four bottom plow, and it sliced a furrow like my sod was whipped cream.
The next day, Larry and I hooked up the disks and in two passes of the field Larry had smoothed the ridges and furrows from the plow into an even (allbeit somewhat lumpy) bed. I need to seed my cover crops before the cold truly sets in, so that their roots will grow deep and hold my soil in place through the winter rains. Though I have heard that you could wait even as late as November, I want to finish my seeding by October 1st, just to be safe. With my field plowed and disked I was already feeling quite lucky, and Monday afternoon brough even more good fortune. On his way home, Larry stopped to talk to our other neighbor, Clarence. Larry mentioned the presence of five or six huge boulders that the plow had unearthed and deposited in the middle of our field, and how he had had to drive around them while disking.
This was all that Clarence and his son Terry needed to hear, and come Monday afternoon, they drove their tractor down our long driveway to lend a hand. Then, with much straining and moving of earth, the four of us (but mostly the tractor) carried or rolled the thousand pound rocks to the stonewalls that surround my field. Before heading off to more good deeds, Terry offered me the use of his seed drill and chain drag for my cover cropping later this week.
Our farm was known around here as “The Blessings Farm,” after the name of the family that farmed it for generations. It would seem that the name was apt in more than one sense, as we have been blessed with rich soil, supportive landlords, and kind neighbors. Our goal for this land is to build a farm that feeds our community. Already the community is “feeding” us.